CENTER, Mo. – About 500 gathered in the parking lot of Mark Twain High School last Saturday to embark on their way to the 4th Annual Side-by-Side Poker Race. Riding the 90-mile course on Ralls County roads and through participating farm trails was off-road for a cause.
Proceeds from the event are donated to the Great River Honor Flight, which helps veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam travel to Washington DC to visit memorials built in their honor.
Sharon Lake, along with her husband John, founded the annual event. The idea came after planning vacation scavenger hunts for her adult children. Her husband suggested it would be fun to have a side-by-side group scavenger hunt. After racing poker on a motorcycle, Lake decided this would be the perfect activity.
As for the Flight of Honor, it holds a special place in the heart of the Lakes.
âI am very interested in the Flight of Honor. My son has been an Air Force veteran for ten years, and he and I were the Guardians of Honor Flight a few years ago, âshe said. “It’s an amazing thing they are doing for these guys.”
Dr Mark Tucker, a physician at the Centre’s Hannibal Clinic, who is also a member of the Great River Honor Flight board, attends the event to brief attendees on honor flights. He has said repeatedly that the side-by-side event inspires people to help the cause in other ways as well.
“It draws their attention to what Honor Flight is, so that if they want to help with fundraising or things that can be done as well, they can,” he said. .
Tucker also participates as a flight medic to ensure veterans stay safe and healthy during the flight. He said that the warm welcome veterans receive is often surprising to them, Vietnam veterans are particularly affected as they did not receive the same treatment upon their return from war.
âIt’s really sad how they got home. Many of them were just young people who didn’t know where they were going when they left and didn’t know what they were getting into. he said. âThey literally got spit on their way home. “
Last year, the event raised $ 17,000 for the nonprofit, which covers northeastern Missouri, southeastern Iowa, and the Quincy area, in. Illinois. Events like these fuel the flights of veterans.
Carlos Hernandez, of the Great River Honor Flight board of directors, said he is grateful to those who plan the events and otherwise help by funding the flights.
âIt’s all over the tri-state area, from Fort Madison to Macomb to Hannibal to Quincy,â Hernandez said. âPretty much everywhere there is something going on and we do our best to show our support and thank them. “
All funds raised now will go directly to future flights. After canceling flights last year due to COVID-19, Hernandez is hoping they will resume in spring 2022.
“As soon as we feel things have returned to a status where we can actually show them the good time they can have, we’ll start scheduling them again,” he said. âWe don’t believe that restricting veterans to wearing masks and not having contact is the answer. This is a situation that we are constantly monitoring.